Vlad Skripets and Valery Kletynska peruse kitchenware and summer clothes amid mountains of donations available through the Ukrainian Canadian Congress.
The Ukrainian couple who arrived in the city last month is hoping to furnish their newfound downtown Winnipeg apartment with items at UCC’s Main Street location.
“When we are come here, we have just one suitcase for both of us,” Skripets said.
It’s a place they can call their own for a few months, one they found after connecting with someone on Facebook, who is offering it to them free of charge.
“Before we are come here, we didn’t have any friends, family or relatives here,” Skripets told Global News on Monday.
The pair from Zaporizhzhia in southeastern Ukraine organized accommodations independently while awaiting Canadian visa approvals abroad, as did many other refugees already in Manitoba residing with family and friends.
But those who can’t are able to stay at the Best Western by the city’s airport, courtesy of the province, until they find permanent housing — something New Journey Housing is tasked with coordinating.
The organization, which began its work in the last three weeks, has been discussing options with about 30 households so far, New Journey Housing executive director Codi Guenther said.
“We’re definitely going to be seeing more in the coming weeks with the flight coming in, so we’re definitely trying to prepare as much as we can for that, but it is hard when we don’t know family sizes, budgets and so many details,” Guenther told Global News on Monday.
“That’s why it’s really nice to have the hotel first (to) get people settled in, then we can meet with them and find out what their exact needs are because we don’t want to be deciding where people are staying on a long-term basis,” she said.
The province says 426 Ukrainian refugees are arriving in Winnipeg next Monday on a charter plane, but Guenther doesn’t know how many will need homes.
“We really find out once they get here, so it’s really hard to prepare. That’s why we’re doing the best we can to have this housing list, which is a wide variety of places, bedroom size, rent, location.”
The hope is to connect with more landlords and property owners to meet the demand, Guenther said.
Most Ukrainian families with whom the Manitoba Association of Newcomer Serving Organizations is in touch want to have their own apartment or house instead of staying with another family, MANSO’s Ukraine Response Co-ordinator Emily Halldorson said.
But some aren’t ready to take on the expense.
“One of the barriers for this influx of newcomers that we’re seeing from Ukraine is the fact that they’re not eligible for a number of different key benefits,” Halldorson told Global News on Monday.
Ukrainians holding visas aren’t eligible for federal child tax benefits, provincial Employment and Income Assistance or Rent Assist, Halldorson said.
On top of hotel stays, the province says it’ll provide refugees with direct financial assistance through a temporary program to support their transition to longer-term accommodations, a spokesperson for Premier Heather Stefanson told Global News in an emailed statement.
“From the outset of this brutal war of aggression, the Manitoba government has been unwavering in its support for Ukraine and its courageous people. We will welcome Ukrainians seeking safety and refuge with open hearts and open arms,” they said.
“We have consistently signalled that we will support them with a full range of provincial supports, including housing, health and mental health care, education, child care, language services and labour market assistance.”
Ukrainians staying at the Best Western aren’t facing a deadline by which they need to vacate, Guenther said.
“We know that it takes time to settle in,” she said. “People are looking for jobs first, which is totally understandable because they need to know how they’re going to pay their rent.”
It’s unclear how many Ukrainians will arrive in Manitoba in the coming months, Halldorson said.
“I think we’re ready for this flight, but we might see many, many more people arriving afterwards, so this is going to be an ongoing initiative,” she said.
“I expect to be in … emergency response mode for probably a number of weeks, if not months to come.”
UCC is looking for certain donations that can be dropped off at 935 Main Street, including dish and laundry detergent, feminine products, school supplies, toiletries and women’s and men’s razors.
The organization is also accepting food like buckwheat, pasta and rice.
Manitobans interested in donating bigger items should call UCC after mid-June for things like dishes and utensils, kettles, microwaves and toasters.
Meanwhile, Skripets and Kletynska are touched so many have shown them generosity since fleeing their war-torn country: an Irish volunteer group funded their mid-April trip to Manitoba, a Winnipeg family hosted them during their first weeks in the city and Monday, a UCC volunteer shuttled their new belongings to their apartment.
The next hurdle will be finding jobs, Skripets said, so they can pay rent for a place of their own.